The cornerback position has been at the forefront of many New York Jets fan’s minds this offseason.
Whether talking about fifth-round pick Jason Pinnock, undrafted free agent Isaiah Dunn, sixth-rounder Brandin Echols, third-year pro Blessuan Austin or a veteran, every Jet supporter has their favorite for a starting role.
The one constant has been the 2020 fifth-round pick, Bryce Hall, out of Virginia.
Most assume that the former Cavalier will end up as one of the Jets’ two Week 1 starters on the outside but defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich made it clear that he’ll have to earn the job just like everyone else.
“He’s got the most experience of the group, he’s played the most football of the group [outside of Austin who was injured], but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s his spot,” Ulbrich told reporters after minicamp.
Ulbrich continued: “It’s going to be a great competition for the corner spot and you’re going to get the best version of whoever ends up being the starter. Could Bryce be the starter? Absolutely could, but we’re far from that.”
It makes sense that Ulbrich wants to keep all his young corners on an even playing field. I can’t help but think back to the famous Remember the Titans quote voiced by Denzel Washington, “well I ain’t gonna cook em and eat em, the best players will play.”
As I always say, competition breeds excellence. Head coach Robert Saleh and Ulbrich are hoping to develop some of these defensive backs into real NFL talents.
No one is guaranteed anything, not even Hall, but that’s never stopped the Pennsylvania native before.
Hall’s Long Road Back From Injury
On The Official Jets Podcast with Ethan Greenberg and Eric Allen on December 1, 2020, Hall told the team reporters that he “[doesn’t] take this for granted.”
A little over a year before, the cornerback suffered an injury that would change his life forever. The Virginia star was projected to be drafted in the first or second round after his junior year of college, but he decided to finish out his career as a Cavalier with a senior campaign.
In an October of 2019 Orange Bowl outing, fate struck. What has been described as a gruesome ankle injury forced Hall from the bowl game.
He was blocking on a punt return when it happened, in what could only be described as a freak accident. Before this moment, Hall had never been the type of player to miss time, appearing in 42 games since his freshman campaign.
Hall told Greenberg and Allen that he didn’t regret his decision to return to Virginia his senior year, explaining that he never would have met his wife Anzel if he hadn’t.
“I’m right where I’m supposed to be. You always have your own ideas and plans, but it doesn’t always happen,” Hall told the reporters.
A former All-ACC first team and All-America second team player in 2018, Hall’s draft status took a major hit. Who knows how far he might have fallen if Joe Douglas didn’t snag him in the fifth.
After stepping away from the game for a bit and then working his way back, Hall noted that it hasn’t been easy and that “every day is a challenge,” but at the end of the day he’s still “living the dream.”
Hall’s Job to Lose
No matter what Ulbrich tells the media, this is Hall’s job to lose.
If not for his ankle injury, he’d be a class above the other cornerbacks on the Jets roster and that’s healing more and more every day.
The Jets defensive coordinator described Hall as a player and a person: “He’s a guy that’s got length, he’s got a great brain and he’s got a thirst for the knowledge of the game. That’s where he’s going to eventually set himself apart I think because he’s so detailed. He’s a guy that’s got the callus on his finger from taking notes in practice.”
Hall’s body may have taken some damage, but according to Ulbrich, his best attribute may be his brain.
You can hear it on display just by listening to the well-spoken man during interviews. He’s a student of this game, one that is always striving to learn more and get better.
Ulbrich has stated many times that his defense will focus on things like effort, toughness and the “essence of this game.” He has also explained that it will be about “technique” and “detail.”
Hall has the tools to excel in a system like this and start for many years to come. Talk about an inspirational ending to his full-circle story.